Staples Principal Finalist Meets The Public

Shelley Somers — unanimously picked by a search committee as the only finalist candidate for the principalship of Staples High School — met with parents and other Westporters this morning.

She sat with students during lunch, and will meet with administrators and staff members later today. The Board of Education — all 7 of whose members were at this morning’s forum — will meet in executive session at 5:30 p.m. today to discuss Somers’ candidacy.

Shelley Somers, this morning at Staples High School.

Shelley Somers, this morning at Staples High School.

This morning, after superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon noted Somers’ qualifications — English teacher, department chair, assistant principal and head of an arts, communications and technology school in 2 South Carolina districts; current principal at Central Middle School in Greenwich, where she was recently named Connecticut PTA Middle School Principal of the Year — she stepped up to the podium.

Somers began the session with 100 members of the public by acknowledging difficulties she had in the 1990s, when she owned a daycare center in East Granby, Connecticut. She miscounted the number of children attending an event, causing one child to remain in a vehicle.

“It’s still very difficult for me to talk about this,” Somers said. It has caused her “sadness and shame,” but also shaped her life today.

“I dot all my i’s and cross all my t’s,” she said. “This has taught me humility. I understand the importance of seeking help, gaining trust and moving on. I go to sleep with this at night, and wake up with it in the morning. I carry this with me in my heart. It has helped me very much, as an educator and a person.”

Somers noted that being principal is a “complex job.” She said that while in previous administrative positions she was hired to “fix things,” her role at Staples would be “to take a great school and figure out how to make it greater. You don’t do that by sitting in your office.”

Being a principal requires “a good ear,” she said — something she has learned to develop not only with students, but her own 4 daughters.

Board of Education members listen as a questioner addresses Staples principal candidate Shelley Somers.

Board of Education members listen as a questioner addresses Staples principal candidate Shelley Somers.

A questioner asked how she would adapt to Staples.

“I’m an educator,” Somers replied. “I don’t see myself as ‘a middle school principal.’ I have experience at all levels, as a teacher and an administrator. I’ve learned a lot about how to make good decisions.

“It was never my intent to stay in middle school — though I love it dearly,” she added.

At Central, she said, “I walked into a building with challenges. I spent a lot of time listening. I knew just being optimistic would not be enough.”

She cited her “open door policy. Parents knew I was there to help them and their children navigate the middle schools years. Parents learned I was a student advocate.”

The Board of Education may vote tonight on a new principal of Staples High School.

The Board of Education meets in executive sesssion tonight on a new principal of Staples High School.

Somers drew applause when — in response to a question about the Smarter Balance testing that was introduced this year — she said, “I don’t think junior year is the best place to put it.”

She reiterated her focus on students. “They’re the reason I got into education,” Somers said. “I am accessible to them. That’s number one with me.”

In reply to a question about a principal’s priorities, she said her top three are physical and emotional safety; availability and listening; and instructional leadership.

One questioner wondered about the “learning curve” needed for a new principal in a new school.

“Sure,” she agreed. “But I am prepared to make decisions.” She said she would talk to current principal John Dodig, and recognized the “strong administrative staff and student support teams” already in place.

Finally, someone asked Somers about the future. “I have younger kids,” the parent said. “I’ll be here for the next decade.”

“So will I,” she replied.

17 responses to “Staples Principal Finalist Meets The Public

  1. This candidate may well have excellent credentials but what I don’t understand is why such a quick decision is being made (and why is there apparently no serious consideration being given to someone already at Staples)?

    Sent from my iPad

    • As noted in the next post, no vote will be taken in executive session tonight. Any vote would be at the next public Board of Ed meeting on Monday, June 1.

  2. david harrison

    So, should Westport be satisfied with the mia culpa on her past…did she pass muster with the assembled multitudes…more importantly, did she get to spend times with the Staples students and, if so, what was their reaction?

    • She had meetings with the Staples students during 3 lunch waves. It would interesting to hear students’ reactions — perhaps some can add their comments here.

  3. Is it usual to have only one finalist for a principalship?

  4. Fred, didn’t Principal Dodig come to Staples from Fairfield H.S., and schools in New Haven before that? I don’t understand why it is so important that a new principal should be “home grown”. In fact, I know of such principals who find, after a year, that they prefer their prior teaching positions within said schools.
    Isn’t “outside” experience, that is having the ability to see with fresh eyes, an asset? Otherwise, you risk (perhaps) the place becoming stale.

    • Nancy–after a thorough review, if the Board feels an outside candidate is clearly the best, of course I would support that. However, I don’t see how that type of review has happened here; I would love to hear some clear explanation of the process.

  5. Roann Markel

    When Ms. Somers was asked if she currently spoke any languages in addition to English, she replied, “No. I took high school Spanish but my accent wasn’t very good.” As she had been an English and Spanish teacher at the Humanities School of Beaufort; and, designed the curriculum for both disciplines, I was hoping that she would convey a passion of how students can achieve a high level of skillfulness with world languages through study and practice.

    • I don’t think she was a Spanish teacher; my notes said “English and journalism teacher.” The question she was responding to was not particularly clear. She did say that she was not very good at calculus, but certainly knew how to evaluate a calculus teacher. My impression of her answer was that she would examine the world language curriculum at Staples before making any judgments — a curriculum that does allow (contrary to the impression the questioner gave) students to study more than one language.

  6. Morgan Patrick

    If there are current Staples students who read this blog, it would be great if they could provide their feedback and share their perspective here!

    The community would really like to hear the current student population weigh in. The Westport schools – especially Staples – really values student involvement in school community and it would be great to hear what their thoughts are.

    Current students: what was her visit like during the lunch waves today? Did she share any thoughts on the Staples student body, or did she have any questions about what Staples is like “from the inside?”

  7. Bart Shuldman

    If anyone was at the meeting can you comment if she has any STEM experience. Is she up to date on what out high schoolers need? Does she have any insight into what new curriculums have to advance our STEM program or needs?

    The future of Staples success will in love insuring our STEM programs are leading. Hopefully she has the skills. High School will be different than middle school and it is my opinion that continuing to advance our STEM courses are critically important.

  8. Jodi ullmann

    All I can say was that I was at the meeting today and it felt like a public lynching not a ‘meet and greet’. It was really embarrassing and incredibly unwelcoming. The focus should have been on her current track record : receiving ‘CT Administrator of theYear’ and not on an event that happened over 20 years ago.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Jodi. Interesting post. As you attended the meeting was there any questions or discussions about her experience with STEM type programs that could enhance what Staples offers? Does she have experience or thoughts or recommendations to continue to improve the courses and ‘atmosphere’ at Staples? Or was the meeting just a personality contest?

    • Jodi – I too was present and didn’t see any lynching or unwelcoming behavior. I thought there were only one or two questions that seemed a little off-base and aggressive (about her day care situation and the world language department, both of which reflected poorly on the “askers,” not Mrs. Somers’ responses. I thought the vast majority of people asked reasonable questions in a fairly straightforward way. Westport is certainly a community of thinkers and people who want the very best for their kids – asking reasonable and considered questions was highly appropriate – in my opinion. I am very sorry to see that Mrs. Somers has removed her name from consideration. We are a very tough crowd to please.

  9. Julia Schorr

    I am a current Staples Junior. Although I was only able to meet with Ms.Somers during 15 minutes of my lunch, during those 15 minutes she answered various questions and seemed interested in the student body. One of the questions that she answered was about her opinions on an open-campus. She said that she was not in favor of an open campus as she has seen the various problems and liability issues with the policy at Greenwich High School (they have an open campus for upperclassman). Her answers were all well explained and she seemed well spoken. She also took the chance to ask us about what improvements we see for the school (class size, more one-on-one instruction time, etc), and what we are involved in. In the very short time I had with her, she left a great impression on me as a student.

    • Morgan Patrick

      Wow that’s awesome that she left such a great impression in the short time you had with her, and that she was curious about students’ ideas for the future! Sounds like some important topics were discussed. Thanks for sharing your feedback!!!